Sitting on the fence and turning a corner (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

The idioms and phrases in this week’s post are taken from a range of national newspapers that were published during the course of a weekend. We write a newspaper idioms post every couple of months in order to keep you supplied with up-to-date, commonly used English idioms.

One newspaper reports on the front page that a major British company is ‘on the brink of’ collapse. To be on the brink of or teetering on the brink of, something, (especially something bad), is to be very close to doing it. The same paper writes that the leader of a political party has ‘come under fire’ from within his own party. To come under fire is to be severely criticized.

In the sports pages of that paper, we read that a Formula One champion is set to ‘play hardball’ with his rivals. If a person plays hardball, they are very determined to defeat someone, using force if necessary. On another page of the sports section, a journalist observes that the story of an athlete who has successfully recovered from cancer will ‘strike a chord’ with very many people. If something strikes a chord with you, you understand it and respond to it emotionally, usually because something similar has also happened to you.

Another broadsheet insists that a UK party leader must ‘stop sitting on the fence’ in relation to Brexit. To sit on the fence in a debate is to not support one side or the other. A guest columnist in the same paper claims that he is a ‘dab hand’ at making tasty dishes with kale (= a dark green cabbage). A dab hand is someone who is very good at a particular activity.

A third newspaper comments that many people now have a low opinion of politicians, assuming that they entered politics only to ‘feather their nests’. To feather your (own) nest is to deliberately make yourself rich, usually by doing something dishonest. In an article on ‘ethical fashion’, a campaigner claims that the fashion world has finally ‘turned a corner’ and is now serious about environmental issues. If a situation turns a/the corner, it improves after a difficult period.

Finally, all the newspapers report that people in their millions have ‘taken to the streets’ to protest against climate change. Take to the streets is a phrase that newspapers often use simply to mean ‘demonstrate’.




17 thoughts on “Sitting on the fence and turning a corner (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

  1. Maryem Salama

    the idiom (dab hand) has an impressive effect upon the ear, but can I use it in a different manner, for example: I am a dab hand at making decisions with cheeky children? with love and respect and many thanks to you, Kate

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Maryem! Actually, the phrase is used more for skills which involve the hands – a dab hand with the paint brush/ a rolling pin, etc. I hope that helps?

  2. adeepti

    Very useful ..I am referring to your posts for my day to day official communication and I observe huge improvement

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